Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Cleaning House

I've got a brief stretch of free time before holiday booksigning madness, and have several goals for this period. The first was to clean my computer--yesterday I made back-ups of important data then reinstalled Windows. It's amazing how fast everything runs now.

Other things on the agenda:
  1. Catch up on my email.
  2. Finally do the library mailing.
  3. Judge all the contests on my website, and update it with tons more content.

Then I'll be Officially Caught Up, just in time to write my next Jack book.

To Bloggers: If you link to my blog, but I don't link to yours, let me know and I'll correct the situation.

To Newbie Writers: Don't start your stories with setting. I'm judging a magazine contest, and 9 out of 10 stories begin with the shining sun or the wet rain. I don't read much farther. Start with dialog and action, and let the setting come out through the story.

To Maria: I love you.

25 comments:

jason evans said...

Don't start your stories with setting.

Dang! *striking out "It was a dark and stormy night."*

*tapping pen on paper (or thumb on spacebar*

*tapping. tapping. tapping.*

Nope. Nothing. I'll try again tomorrow. :(

Nicholas Colt said...
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Mark Terry said...

I've noted with a bit of a smirk that Robert Crais very often starts his books with a bit of weather and description of setting, but then again, he's Robert Crais. But yes, it's still good advice.

Dean said...

Ray Bradbury actually starts his latest effort with those exact words.

Well, he's Ray Bradbury. He knows what he's doing. I've heard it said many times that rules for writing are made to be broken, but only once you know how the rules work. I think that is generally excellent advice: start your stories as Joe suggests until you can write as well as Ray Bradbury, and THEN you can break the rules.

JA Konrath said...

Is you story about weather? Then start with weather.

Is it about characters, aciton, and conflict? Then start with that.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Anonymous said...

Joe,

Thanks for the blurb advice you gave over on 007's blog. I'd always been adverse to seeking blurbs for my future bestseller (hee hee), but her post convinced me to pursue them. Your comments told me HOW to pursue them, and I thank you for that.

Mark

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I've always said you just need to start your story with a character in motion. That will, more often than not, keep your readers reading.

As they say in the screenwriting world, enter a scene after the beginning and leave it before the end.

JA Konrath said...

"Nothing puts me in a bad mood quicker than being stirred from a peaceful sleep by the sounds of gunfire and shattering glass."

That's servicable, but it's telling rather than showing.

"The gunfire woke me up." is showing.

It's more immediate, less removed. If you wanted to keep the tone, it could be:

"I woke up in a bad mood, which probably had something to do with the glass covering my bed and the bullets flying in through the broken window."

Or whatever.

Show, don't tell.

JA Konrath said...

Also, try not to immitate the masters when you write. Bradbury is wonderful, but he began in this business when times were different, and his stardom has given him a certain autonomy.

If you want to understand current buying trends in the publishing biz, read new books by first-time authors. They are what editors are buying.

Mark Terry said...

How about:

I was sleeping just fine until gunfire blasted through my window, covering me with shards of glass.

Or:

When my window exploded, my first reaction was to sit up in bed. But since it was bullets that shattered the glass, I promptly laid back down, which was far better than having my head blown off.

Or:
Gunfire was my alarm clock.

Nicholas Colt said...
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David J. Montgomery said...

"Gunfire and splintering glass make an awfully rude alarm clock."

I would generally recommend something a little more active than observational. But I like the idea of a short, punchy sentence. You don't want to get too wordy or prolix when you're discussing flying bulletg and shattering glass.

I think this is a good discussion because the first sentence (and the first paragraph, and the first page) of a novel is extremely important. I've heard from a lot of authors who prefer to believe this isn't true, but I disagree strongly.

A good first sentence draws you in. A bad one turns you away. It's as simple as that.

JA Konrath said...

"Gunfire and splintering glass make an awfully rude alarm clock."

That's passive. Where's the action in that sentence? The subject is the alarm clock.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Nicholas Colt said...
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jason evans said...

Oh well. It WAS a dark and stormy night.

Nicholas, LOL! Seriously, though, your last rewrite is loads better. Go with something like that.

Anne Merril said...

Other than "my eyes popped open" (ew!) that is an improvement.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Nicholas Colt said...
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Anne Merril said...

I find it highly amusing that this discussion has completely hijacked JA's post.

I think you could go around and around for the rest of your life, trying to get that "perfect" first line. It ain't gonna happen, bud! Well, ok, maybe it will. But how many novels do we read that do just have "servicible" first lines? We keep reading, regardless. I don't think it is as important as having a really strong opening, overall. A great first line is just icing ont he cake.

Readers these days have so much less patience. (Do I sound old and venerable now?) Seriously, how many people, other than truly dedicated fantasy-philes, will tackle Tolkien these days? Millions loved the movies, but I bet they didn't love the books.

This, of course is a product of Evil Television (TM) which teaches us to demand immediate gratification blah-de-blah-de-blah, and results in future generations of readers that want the gunshot on page 1, chapter 1.

Sometimes, though, it's not the smoking gun that the reader needs to see. Sometimes the powder burns are enough.

Does your protagonist have blood on his hands, or blood on his shoes? That's waht your readers want to know.

Nicholas Colt said...
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Mark Terry said...

Just a comment about Nicholas' opening lines--none of them were bad. And much depends on what you follow up on it with. Does your character immediately roll to the floor, searching for the shotgun under the bed? Did his lover standing naked in the doorway take the bullets? Was her husband the one shooting through the window? Is he explaining the events to a reporter, a cop, a scriptwriter, a movie producer, his cat?

What's the tone? Seems flip. Maybe it works. Follow it with, But it's better than a bomb. I hate that when that happens.

Best,
Mark Terry

Nicholas Colt said...
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Robin Bayne said...

I link to your blog--if you'd like to return the link:

writtenbetweensundays.blogspot.com

Thanks : )